I am venturing into the world of flower gardening. It’s shocking, really…
I usually don’t bother with anything that isn’t practical or has a certain purpose. You won’t find any knick-knacks at my house. If we can’t use it, I don’t want to clean it. Sure, my green dutch oven is proudly displayed on a shelf in the dining room, it’s beautiful and I can cook in it.
But I feel nothing toward a basket of decorative porcelain eggs. Now, if it was a basket of real, fresh eggs on the kitchen counter? Beautiful.
Until this summer, I didn’t bother with flowers. They didn’t hold my interest at all. When I turned a patch of soil into a garden, it was always a vegetable garden. We can eat vegetables. Can’t eat flowers (well, most of them you can’t eat…)
So, what’s changed you are asking?
Early this year we started working the farmland we bought back in 2014. Suddenly, I had so much room to plant. It wasn’t my small urban garden anymore, it was acres and acres of open space.
So I decided to plant some flowers. I wanted to make sure there will be enough beneficial insects to pollinate the vegetables, and I have a little girl who loves picking flowers.
Without much thought or any research, I ordered a few packs of beneficial insect flower mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, tilled a 100 ft row right next to the corn and planted the seeds.
Man, oh man, what an explosion of color!
No one cared about my precious vegetables anymore. My kids, who used to run to pick peas, were now running to the flowers as soon as we parked the car.
“Look how many cucumbers,” I said proudly to the few visitors we had.
“Yes, awesome,” they replied, “but the flowers! Look at the flowers!”
And me? I didn’t fertilize the flower bed, I didn’t mulch it, I didn’t even water it once! Yet, flowers, bumblebees, butterflies, bees… They were all over the place.
It was beautiful and since then flowers are on my list.
So when we turned another area of our front urban yard into a garden, I decided to make it both productive and beautiful. I planted herbs, lettuce mix, kale, beets, and flower bulbs. Fall flower bulbs, for early spring flowers.
What Are Fall Flower Bulbs?
Fall flower bulbs are bulbs that benefit from a cold winter. They require a number of weeks of cold temperatures in order to start the biochemical process that causes them to flower in the spring when temperatures warm a bit. So they are planted in the fall but bloom in early spring.
Which Flower Bulbs Need to be Planted in the Fall?
There are many flower bulbs you can plant in the fall. The more common ones are tulips, phlox, hyacinths, and daffodils. Here is a page that lists them all and a great place to purchase bulbs.
Soil – Bulbs like a neutral pH (around 7), soil that is too acidic or too alkaline will prevent bulb root growth. Flower bulbs like well-drained soil rich in compost. Avoid areas where water collects.
Sun – full sun in preferable, however, most bulbs will do OK in partial shade as well.
Timing – try to plant bulbs as soon as you get them. If this is not possible, keep them in a cool, dry place until planting. It’s better to plant bulbs in the garden 4-6 weeks before expected first frost when night temperatures average between 40-50 degrees (gardening zones 1-7). This way, they have time to establish roots before the ground freezes.
If you are planting fall bulbs in warm zones (8-11) you are going to have to pre-chill them. Leave them in their bag or place them in a paper bag or an egg carton, and put them in the refrigerator for 6-10 weeks before planting in the garden. Make sure not to place them close to ripening fruits like apples that emit a gas that will ruin the bulbs. Plant the bulbs in the garden during the coldest months, usually December or January.
How to Plant Fall Bulbs
Don’t worry too much if the skin of the bulb is cracked, just make sure the bulbs are firm and not rotten or soft. Don’t plant damaged or soft bulbs.
You will have specific instructions for planting on the package for whatever bulbs you purchase, but the general rule is to plant bulbs 3 times as deep as their height. For example, the tulip bulb in the picture above is about 1 1/2 inches tall, so I planted it about 5 inches deep. Again, every bulb is different, but I found that this is also a good rule to follow for spacing. So in this case, I spaced my tulips 4-5 inches apart.
Usually, it’s not too difficult to recognize the bottom of the bulb. While the tip is pointy (left side of the picture above), the bottom is a bit flatter and sometimes have tiny roots (right side of the picture above). You want to plant the bulbs with the tip pointing up, however, if you are not sure which end is the tip, plant the bulb sideways. It will still do good.
Option 1 –
Dig a hole with this awesome tool that prevents your wrist from twisting awkwardly…
Place the bulb in the hole, tip pointing up…
Option 2 –
Scrape the top layer of the soil from the area you want to plant your bulbs in. In this area, I planted crocus, since they need to be planted 3” deep I removed 3” of soil.
Place the bulbs, tip side up, in the correct spacing…
Then cover them with the soil you removed. If you do it this way, you can cover the bulbs with a piece of chicken wire before covering them with the soil. This will help protect them from squirrels and other hungry creatures that will happily dig them up for dinner.
To achieve the greatest color impact, plant bulbs in clusters. You can have fun with fall bulbs and create creative designs. You can plant smaller flower bulbs like crocus (plant height is 4-6 in) in front of bigger bulbs like tulips (plant height 18-20 in).
You can plant a line of bulbs along a walkway, or you can try the double-decker effect where you plant bulbs on top of each other. For example, daffodils at 8” deep, on top of them tulips at 5” deep, and on top of them crocus at 3” deep.
How to Care for Fall Bulbs
Fertilize – add compost and/or organic fertilizer like this one during spring or summer as needed, especially if your bulbs are intended to naturalize (return next year).
Prune – once the flower is done blooming, cut the flower off but not the foliage. The leaves will help gather energy from the sun and “recharge” the bulb for next year. Once the foliage is yellow you can cut it off as well.
Will My Fall Bulbs Return Year After Year?
Some of them will, some of them won’t. It depends on the type of bulb you are planting and your location. It is pretty safe to say that daffodils will come back for years if you plant them in zone 1-7 where winters are cold. Tulips might come back, but it’s not for sure. Crocus will probably come back. You will have to check for each bulb you are looking to purchase.
I am very excited to see how my new garden comes together in the spring. I think it will be a nice mixture of herbs, vegetables, and flowers. I might even look for a couple more flowers to add in the spring. If you have any suggestions for flowers I can grow in the same space as vegetables please leave me a comment bellow.
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Lady Lee is a single mother of four, she was born in Israel and raised in an agricultural commune called a Kibbutz. From a very young age, she was very interested in agriculture and farming.
She is a former IDF fitness trainer and is passionate about simple, natural living. She now lives in NC with her four kids, dog, cat, goats, ducks, and chickens.